Small Town She Says

This is not the usual/wannabecool/”adventurous travel” post that I tend throw on here. However, it’s probably just as pretentious and annoying, so let’s just go with it…

I now live in a small town.

Thinking back on what I had previously considered a small vs big town, it was always very idealized: “San Francisco” “Madrid” “Paris” “Barcelona””Somewhere Foreign” “Blah Blah Blah” “Capitalized Letters” “People Will Think It Is Cool?”

So Phoenix is an enormous town…it is a huge city….it is so much more than I understood it to be growing up. And I lost something for a long time not understanding its enormity. However, recently, the destructive element and enormity of Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun has become so blatantly obvious and (for me) overwhelmingly stifling that I cannot, and am not, living there anymore. I always knew my childhood home was a “big city,” but the implications of a place so hot that when your seatbelt scalds you, you just shrug and walk across your plush green lawn to your choline pool to sooth the burn, and of cours someone’s parents thereafter make sure you enjoy some ice water inside your some conditioned home…

and here we go…as much as that memory will always make me happy, it simply cannot exist anymore.

 

Okay, the rant is (mostly) over, because I do want to share the praises for our delightful little town. I now live in northern Arizona in a town of less than 40,000. Water is always an issue, and it will be increasingly so in the coming years. But beyond that, small towns like where I live now will be a commodity in the future. With more people, less land, harsher environemnts, and the lack of options to deny changes in local climates, little towns like mine will be flooded with new people….oh I forgot! I wasn’t going to rant anymore!! Shucks, I lied….

What a dilemma! I left a massive sprawling metropolis–which will have no place to exist as it does in the coming years– for the quality of a small, mild-mannered town…yet it is on the precipice of an exodus from such climate disaster areas just to the south, and many of whom we will personally know.

 

I struggle between extremes: pessimism and hope. Tell me, how do you feel?

 

Cross Country, For No Reason

I crave the road.

And not as a metaphor.  I mean that I crave the dusty American highway.  I crave the chase of a sunset over the horizon as I cross yet another state border.  I crave climbing into my truck amongst the red-rocked Arizona deserts of home, taking off in any which direction I desire….tonight’s bedroom could be anywhere from the boulders of Joshua Tree to the high mountains of the Rockies to lightening bugs in Missouri to the open fields of North Dakota.  I crave the idealistic adventures perpetuated by Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan and J.D.Salinger, infused into my consciousness since I was eleven years old.  I crave not knowing where I will watch the sun rise over a steaming cup of tea tomorrow morning — adventure, the unknown, the uninhabited, and a taste of the ideals of a previous generation.  Those ideals may not exist in the way they did twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago, yet they are firmly cemented in the way I see the world.  In spite of a time defined by modernity, knowing what I yearn for has been lost to an increasingly changing world, I nonetheless crave that intangible, probably gone “open road”–and have set out in search of it.

I think as Americans we all identify with this kind of freedom on some level.  The Pioneer Sprit, The Wild West, Manifest Destiny–all those americana keywords we grew up studying in text books, and to some degree carry with us into adulthood.  But how to do so in today’s ever shrinking world?  Where wilderness includes cell service and once pristine, untouched places are rife with discarded coca-cola cans and plastic bottles?

Without any real answers, at least for me, we just get out there anyway.

Thankfully, for now, this country is still home to a lot of open land.  Get a map (a real one, not on your phone), and look at all that green……that is all open, public land.  And most of it is still just that……open. This summer, I found myself (and simultaneously lost myself) in these lands–by loading up my little dog, a cooler full of wine and avocados, a stack of books and antiquated ideas, and driving crosscountry–I became the cliche of my 1950’s books.  Below is my trip in a few snapshots.

And for those with the time, the energy, the booze, the nostalgia, and the need for a semi-unplanned drive across our still beautiful country–do it.  As you follow the black pavement and dashed yellow lines running seemingly endless, tantalizing and encouraging you to join in their journey into the depths of that fading evening light, you will find both answers and questions.  And there is nowhere else to find them, but the open road.

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New Mexico–>East Texas
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Texas–>MissouriIMG_6173IMG_6174

 

Missouri–>IndianaIMG_1628IMG_1658IMG_1647

 

New York–>Pittsburgh
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Minnesota
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South Dakota
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And so this summer, from west to east and back again, I spent the majority of my time alone (apart from the pup).  I had held the notion that such a trip would be not only a journey of place but also of people–however I came to realize that either that idea is wrong, or gone, or I am as inward of a person as I always thought.  Romantic (perhaps childish?) ideas of simply venturing into the unknown and jostling into people and experiences along the away is not the reality–at least not anymore or not for me.  We are no longer forced to interact with strangers; never once did I need to stop and ask for directions, nor stop to ask for a good place to sleep or park my car for the night, nor ask for the nearest grocery store or best place to grab a midday drink.  The trip was both easy and disappointing because of an overarching, intruding sense of disconnected-connectedness.

I was never truly lost, never felt truly scared, never felt completely unsure.  And isn’t that part of the allure?  Isn’t the unknown supposed to be just that, unknown?  I realized with a sharp tinge of loss that the strong-held beliefs of every preceding century, the notion that “adventure is out there,” is largely lost.  Where to find that sense of wonder, sense of nervousness, the rush of adrenaline, in an age that allows for wifi from my tent?  We are now forced to find it in, and for, ourselves– to make a commitment to disconnect and to get completely lost, which by our nature is hard to do.  We now must chose the harder path, and seek out the challenge in a way that our parents, grandparents, and ancestors did not have to chose because that was just life.

 

However, although I feel this loss deeply, I did end up finding truth on the road.  I think now, more than ever, that the past will always seem as the better, more wild, more real times–but it is simply progress, and the way every generation has and will always feel.

And in actuality, I did find what I sought; all the angst, the love, the beauty, the confusion, the simplicity, the challenge, and the life. I did get lost, and I did feel scared, and I wasn’t always so sure…..just not in the way I had envisioned.  The challenge will forever be out there, we just have to decide for ourselves–decide to follow those dashed yellow lines as they disappear beyond the horizon into yet another day, another day on the uncertain and still open road.

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Lake Atitlan

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One lake. Two weeks. Three volcanoes.

Lake Atitlan is a place I will recommend to anyone, always. A land of eternal spring, traditions and language of another time, and the living energy of both the surrounding villages and volcanoes……a visit here is, to use a cliche, something from a dream.

Guatemala in general is my favorite country (a bold statement, I know)–I say this even though I honestly have enjoyed everywhere I have been these last few years, for every place, every country, every neighborhood and every culture, is something unique and strange and beautiful unto itself. However, Guatemala stands out as a colorful, calming place unlike any other. I felt immediately that I would come back, and also as if I had already been here. See for yourself from the photos (of which I did not take many, as I was too busy absorbing the smells and sounds and colors of this incredible world)…..but also go see it for yourself rather than through these pictures. It is truly meant to be experienced rather than read about from afar.

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Ugandan Cuisine

Recipes & Stories from my Travels in Uganda

I have already bragged on Ugandan hospitality, of which food is a major part. But the food, in all of its massive quantities, deserves its own discussion entirely.

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Our insanely full bellies after yet another gianormous Ugandan meal

So here I admit to some ignorance, for I thought I would be a lacking in the tasty food department whilst in Uganda, at least a bit.  NOT the case.  In one very remote village in eastern Uganda, we were invited into the home of a member of the women’s cooperative where we were donating fruit trees for a post-planting meal.  Two women, standing over a boiling hot caldron on the dirt floor next to their mattresses, served us up a platter of food piled so high with steaming bananas & cassava, that we assumed it was to be shared amongst all nine of us…..when it was actually meant for one person.  This was the way it was at every meal, and when we couldn’t even come close to finishing the mounds of food, our Ugandan hosts would ask us sincerely what was the matter, then encourage us, hell, BULLY us, to finish our entire plate.

We ate our meals in one of two places: either a small restaurant or, more often, the home of one of the community members or our host.  Either way, the setup was almost always buffet style.  The food is served and/or cooked in banana leaves, which add not only beauty but also flavor to the dishes.  Below you will find the components of many of these meals, along with some pictures of their delicious and massive portions!

 

Matoke (cooked banana) – Bananas play a huge role as a staple carbohydrate, and almost every meal I had in Uganda featured them in some way.  Matoke refers to any preparation of a cooked banana.

Cassava – Cassava is the root tuber of the cassava plant.  You see this spindly plant growing everywhere, and will have plates of steamed cassava shoved through your car windows at every stop.  It is extremely dry on it own, but we ate it on long car rides with salt and some store-bought hot sauce.  SO good.  You will also find cassava chips and ground cassava flour.

A “small” Ugandan meal

Corn – Lots of yummy roasted corn as street food.  Every busy city street has people squatted over small fires & a grill, roasting maize.  I always stop for some, as I am a serious sucker for street corn.  From Ecuador to Peru to Chile to Mexico to Puerto Rico to El Salvador and now Uganda, it is my favorite street food.

Yams & Sweet Potatoes – Served steamed, boiled, or mashed, always covered in a sauce.  The yams had a marbeling of white and purple which we don’t see much here in the States.  They also were disctinctly sweeter than store bought ones back home.

Irish Potatoes – All regular potatoes, like the ones we have at home as mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, are called Irish Potatoes.  This always made me giggle.

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Pumpkins & Squash:  Lots of different yummy varaties, mostly resembling a kabocha squash (with the green & orange/yellow coloring).  Sweet, yummy, and always a welcome site on the buffet table.

This one wasn’t my serving, as it is served with chicken, but the rest of the meal was typical featuring rice, squash, cassava, matoke, g-nut sauce, & some cooked greens

Groundnut Sauce – Discussing Ugandan cuisine would not be complete without discussing peanut sauce. Or more actually, “groundnut sauce.”  The groundnut/peanut (isn’t this a much better name, considering they do indeed grow on the ground) thrives in the tropical Ugandan landscape, and for me is the signature of Ugandan cooking.  It makes everything taste better, and makes you 10x fuller than you already were.  I even have a bag of G-nuts that I smuggled home hanging out in my freezer right now.

Pumpkin, rice, matoke, & far from enough groundnut sauce

Street Food – I live for street food.  I was indoctrinated into the street-food-loving crowd when I first moved to Ecuador right out of college, and will never go back.  It is and will always be one of the best aspects of traveling, and one of the ways I feel most involved with the local lifestyle.  Here in Uganda, there is a strong Indian influence, with the most common street foods being Chipati and Samosas.  There are also tons of cooked meat-on-a-stick stuff, but you know, being a vegan, not so much my thing.

Chapati-and-matooke

Chipati & Matoke

Samosa

Samosas

Sugar Cane – Also of note is the vast amount of sugar cane fields and presence of people chewing on this as a snack.  I can’t count the number of times I saw kids knawing on a big stick of this stuff or a man on a bicycle with a big hunk of it hanging out of his mouth.  I happen to also have a piece of sugar cane I brought back with me in my freezer, next to the groundnuts.

I enjoyed and overindulged in African food so much during my stay, that upon my return to Arizona I attempted to recreate my Ugandan culinary experience for my family.  Below you can see my completed meal (and on the placemats I purchased there, too!)

My Arizona-meets-Uganda homemade meal

Grilled bananas, boiled yams & sweet potatoes, matoke, sugar cane, passionfruit, avocado & cucumber/tomato/onion relish, mango juice, and…….groundnut sauce!!

Ugoing to Uganda?: The Good

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You going to Uganda?  That’s awesome.  It’s not everyone who does.  Heck, it wasn’t even on my radar until a month before I landed at Entebbe Airport.

Uganda is a unique, mixed place.  There is the good:  the food, the open arms, the smiles, the clothing, the dancing, the generosity, the Nile, the animals…  But there is also the bad.

I want to share both sides, because that is the reality in this country.  Just as in everything, there truly is not light without the dark, and Uganda has a lot of both.

Let us start with the good, shall we?

The People & Hospitality:  I feel I have family in Uganda after spending three weeks there.  David, the always smiling unofficial mayor/father/best friend/uncle/jokester/savior of the town, who opened his home to us for a never ending meal of traditional vegetarian fareIMG_4266 shared by him and his family.  Then there is Edward, a man so easy going yet hard working, as he relentlessly pursues a solution to the effects of climate change in Uganda.  Mousa, at left with his family, was a welcome addition with his quite demeanor and patience with our questions surrounding his Muslim faith and the traditions of his country.  These are only a few of the many wonderful people who showed me what Ugandan hospitality is all about.

The Food:  SO. MUCH. FOOD.  When we travel for these planting trips, our hosts know we are all vegans, so it makes things much easier….and tastier.  Most traditional foods throughout the world are mainly vegetables anyway, so it makes for some seriously fine dining.

We ate bananas of every shape and form, from boiled for breakfast with cucumbers, tomatoes, & onions, to fried and smothered in peanut sauce for lunch, to steamed in their own leaves in a mound for dinner.  We ate avocados, jackfruit, guava, melons, oranges, papaya, squash, pumpkin, salads, soups, and all sorts of delicious fare, all served in portion sizes that will rival ANY all-you-can-eat buffet in the US.

You can read more about the specifics and recipes I brought back from Uganda in another post, here.

The Clothes, Dancing, Culture, & Energy: IMG_4471

Uganda was full of life.  We enjoyed dancing, playing soccer, laughing, running, eating, planting trees, colorful clothing, educational talks, community celebrations and simple strolls through rural villages.  Rather than rambling away, I will instead do my best to show you what it felt like to be there….

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I will leave it at that for now.  There is much more to be said, so I am separating my trip out into a few posts.  I will discuss our venture to the source of the Nile, the attack of baboons at Murchinson Falls, a charging of a bull elephant on the safari, and our day of tracking chimpanzees all at a later time.  So stay tuned for all the posts to come about the wonderful parts of Uganda, as well as my counter piece to this post about the not-so-light-hearted side of this complex yet beautiful country.

Ugoing to Uganda?: The Bad

Now, for the dark side of Uganda.

I want to preface this by saying I adore Uganda.  In fact I will be returning next year.   And these “good” and “bad” terms simplify and almost trivialize the much broader and complicated issues facing a country with a myriad of obstacles: overcoming the scars of Idi Amin’s horrific regime, water and land insecurity in the face of climate change, western influences squandering native cultures, and the list goes on.  However, these two major issues I am labeling as “bad” are the symptoms of much larger problems.  But because they are so terrible, and I was witness to them firsthand, I feel the need to explore them here.

Extreme Homophobia:  Uganda’s Anti-Homesexuality Bill was the first bill introduced that would make homosexuality punishable by death.  It is hard to believe that this is true, especially in light of the huge strides finally being made domestically towards marriage rights for all.  The extent of prejudice and shame to those who identify openly, or are even suspected as being gay, is horrendous.  To be honest, it is hard to put the words down here to do justice to the injustice happening in Uganda, so please, take the time to watch the documentary Call Me Kuchu.  You will feel as I do, and rethink how our actions here affect the lives of those in other parts of the world.

God “Loves” Uganda: Radical Evangelical Christians have preyed upon those in Uganda, and this is in large part responsible for the above mentioned anti-gay hysteria.  This is not pointing fingers, but a direct result of an onslaught of Western religious extremists descending upon this country.  Again, I find myself too upset sitting here to try to put the words together to express the atrocities these people are having to face in Uganda.  Please watch God Loves Uganda, and make your voice heard to stand up for the brave men and women of Uganda fighting for their basic human right to love.  I came across a rally held by one of these religious groups while I was here, and it was very disturbing to witness.  There will be more death and suffering in Uganda if this is allowed to continue in the way that it is.

To donate, support, and find out more about the struggle of the gay community in Uganda, visit http://callmekuchu.com/act/.

Barcelona: My Soul Sister

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I am en route to Africa, and looking at flights, and it hits again…….the travel bug.  It plants itself firmly in mind, looking at the map and my flight to Uganda, and sees the endless stops that can be made in between.  Morocco?  Turkey?  Italy?  Israel?  Then I see it…….that sparkling land that has been beckoning me since my first dreams of traveling abroad as a teenager.  SPAIN.

I am lucky to have met a delightful German documentary filmmaker (who also happens to be an absolute blast) while living in Hawaii, and upon her leave emphasized again how much I would love Barcelona and to come visit.  Well, the lovely part about having friends who offer such tempting offers, is that you can act on them!

So off I flew from Phoenix to Barcelona, where I spent a week with her and her lovely friends.  We talked and talked and drank and drank and laughed and laughed and danced and then talked some more.  Four in the morning was the usual bedtime.  One in the afternoon the usually rising time.

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The beach, the people, the vibe, the beauty, the culture, the food, the weather.

The best compliment I can give my lovely Barcelona is that I left planning my extended return.  I WILL be back, for a month (or eight?), and you can toast to that Barcelona!

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Fruit Forever!

This post is solely devoted to the gluttony of the scrumptious, never ending fruit of the Big Island of Hawaii.  The bounty is unreal in a true, living paradise.  I ate and ate and ate on papaya, coconut, cocao, soursop, jackfruit, mango, lilikoi, guava, pineapple, avocado, banana, rambutan, lychee, the amazing noni……..the list goes ON AND ON!  I am one happy, healthy vegan, and I owe it’s roots to living here.

All of my thanks and honor to Pele, the Lava Goddess of the Island, for continuing to bless this place with beauty and amazing energy!

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Rollinia

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The amazing Cocoa Fruit! Aka real, raw Chocolate

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Papayas at the Market

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Soursop

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Picking Coffee –you can eat coffee cherry, or the red part, right off the tree…it is so sweet and delicious

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Macadamia Nuts

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The incredible (and pungent) Noni Fruit

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More freshly harvested Cocoa pods

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Suriname Cherry –if eaten green they are often rolled and salt and a common Hawai’ian snack – when ripe they have a floral flavor

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Living Out of My 4WD in Hawaii

IMG_2407.jpgThe Big Island of Hawaii is hands down, the best of the Hawaiian Islands.

Snow topped mountains, the ‘Valley of Eden’ that is Waipio Valley, fresh caught tropical fish by nomad-living locals, and a true, deep respect for the land and the power of an active volcano that dictates life here.

And the best way to see it, is living out of a 4Runner.  Which is exactly what I did this summer.  Please, just look below…………..(and I bet you’ll be doing the same soon).

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